Sunteți pe pagina 1din 18

A.M. No.

mtj-18-1911

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant


vs
WALTER INOCENCIO V. ARREZA, Judge, Municipal Trial Court, Pitogo, Quezon,
Respondent

RESOLUTION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

From September 19, 2016 to October 1, 2016, a judicial audit was conducted in Branches 61
and 62, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Gumaca, Quezon, and all the Municipal Trial Courts
(MTC)/Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTC) under the said RTC's jurisdiction. The results
thereof,1 particularly with respect to the MTC, Pitogo, Quezon presided by Judge Walter
Inocencio V. Arreza (Judge Arreza), showed, that out of the 35 pending cases, there were
numerous undecided cases which had been overdue for several years.2

In view of this, Deputy Court Administrator Raul B. Villanueva (DCA Villanueva) issued a
Memorandum3 dated October 28, 2016 to Judge Arreza which stated in part, viz.:

xxxx

MTC Pitogo, Quezon, has six (6) court personnel headed by the Clerk of Court II, Ms. Mederlyn
F. Orfanel. We note that the positions of Court Stenographer 1 and Clerk II are vacant. The
court's latest monthly reports of cases for the last six (6) months show the clearance and
disposition rates and average inflow and outflow of cases as follows:

Pending Inflow Outflow Pending Clearance Disposition


Cases Rate Rate
Beginning
(Outflow÷ [Outflow÷
Inflow) (Beg+Inflow)]

Mar-16 45 1 4 42 183.33% 21.57%

Apr-16 42 0 1 41

May-16 41 0 2 39

Jun-16 39 4 2 41

Jul-16 41 0 0 41
Aug-16 41 1 2 40

Average 1 2

While the clearance rate may appear high at 183.33%, the disposition rate is quite low
at 21.57%. The data also shows that the high clearance rate is only due to the fact that very
few cases are being filed in court, or an average of 1 case per month. The disposal of the court
leaves much to be desired. It was able to dispose of only 2 cases per month, on the average.

The audit team examined a total of 35 pending cases (cutoff is 31 August 2016). Of these
cases, 23 were already submitted for decision; all are already overdue for several months and
even years, with the exception of 1 case. Thus, if we remove the 23 cases submitted for
decision from the 35 pending cases, [Judge Arreza was) left with only 12 cases in active trial.
With only 12 cases to handle, Judge Arreza clearly had more than enough time to render
decisions. Further, we see no reason why there could still be any protracted proceedings. But
surprisingly, there were 7 cases that have been pending trial for over 3 years. In fact, the
oldest case has been pending trial for almost 9 years x x x.

In view of the above observations, Judge Arreza should be made to explain why no
administrative sanction should be imposed against him for gross inefficiency and undue delay in
deciding cases.4

Thus, Judge Arreza was ordered to:

xxxx

a. IMMEDIATELY DECIDE the [twenty-three (23), cases submitted for decision x x x which are
overdue;

b. TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION on the one (1) case with no further action/setting for a
considerable length of time x x x;"5

c. EXPEDITE the disposition of the seven (7) cases aged three (3) years and above and SUBMIT
a status report thereon as of 30 June 2017 on or before 5 July 2017;6 and

d. SUBMIT copies of the pertinent decisions and orders, as proof of the action taken on Item
Nos. 1(a) and 1(b) above, on or before 30 December 2016, together with a written explanation
why no administrative sanction should be imposed against [Judge Arreza for] gross inefficiency
and undue delay in deciding cases.

xxxx

For strict compliance.7

In the Compliance8 dated December 27, 2016, a table was presented indicating that: (1) all of
the 23 cases submitted for decision had already been resolved/decided; (2) the one case with
no further action/setting for a considerable length of time had already been acted upon;9 and
(3) two of the seven pending cases aged three years and above had already been resolved
while the remaining five were undergoing hearings. Judge Arreza likewise submitted his written
explanation10 dated December 29, 2016 wherein he admitted his inefficiency. He, however,
begged for understanding and narrated the circumstances which he claimed led to his failure to
act on and decide cases. According to him, he and his wife were having marital problems in
2008 or just a year after his appointment as Judge. Things became worse in March 2010 when
his wife finally left him and their children. In December 2012, he suffered a stroke, was
hospitalized for two weeks, and almost became paralyzed. He has since then started taking
maintenance medicine and was lucky enough to have now recovered. All these, according to
Judge Arreza, took a toll in his performance as a judge. Be that as it may, he now undertakes
to perform all his tasks, duties and responsibilities in line with the Court's mission and vision.

In the latest update11 dated July 3, 2017, Judge Arreza reported the status/specific actions
taken on the remaining five cases aged over three years and beyond which as of the said date
were still in active trial.

Recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA)

In its Memorandum12 of July 20, 2017, the OCA made the following observations:

Judge Arreza's explanation that he experienced marital problems and suffered a stroke in 2012
cannot justify the delay.1avvphi1 While we commiserate with him for having been abandoned
by his wife and having to take care of their children on his own, such is not a valid ground to
excuse his failure to discharge his duties. We note that his stroke happened years ago in 2012.
How he allowed his court to incur the 23 overdue cases for too long a time despite only around
12 active cases to hear at a once a month hearing schedule, is abhorrent. More than half of
said cases were in fact submitted for decision even prior to his stroke. We note further that
after said cases were discovered during the audit, he was able to dispose of all of them within a
three (3) month period without a hitch. This only shows that he had the capability but chose
not to act on said cases.

This Court has consistently impressed upon the members of the Bench the need to decide cases
promptly and expeditiously, on the time-honored principle that justice delayed is justice denied.

As frontline officials of the Judiciary, trial court judges should at all times act with dedication,
efficiency, and a high sense of duty and responsibility as the delay in the disposition of cases is
a major culprit in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the judicial system.

This is embodied in Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which states that a
judge shall dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required
periods, and in Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine
Judiciary which provides that judges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of
reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly, and with reasonable promptness.
No less that the Constitution requires that cases at the trial court level be resolved within three
(3) months from the date they are submitted for decision, that is, upon the filing of the last
pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself. This three
(3)-month or ninety (90)-day period is mandatory and failure to comply can subject the judge
to disciplinary action.13

Accordingly, the OCA recommended that Judge Arreza be held liable for gross inefficiency and
undue delay in deciding cases and fined in the amount of ₱40,000.00, with stern warning, it
being his first offense.

The Court's Ruling

The Court adopts the findings of the OCA with modification as regards the recommended
penalty.

The Court's policy on prompt resolution of disputes cannot be overemphasized.14 In Guerrero v.


Judge Deray,15 it stated:

As has been often said, delay in the disposition of cases undermines the people's faith in the
judiciary. Hence, judges are enjoined to decide cases with dispatch. Their failure to do so
constitutes gross inefficiency and warrants the imposition of administrative sanctions on them.
Appellate magistrates and judges alike, being paradigms of justice, have been exhorted time
and again to dispose of the court's business promptly and to decide cases within the required
periods. Delay not only results in undermining the people's faith in the judiciary from whom the
prompt hearing of their supplications is anticipated and expected; it also reinforces in the mind
of the litigants the impression that the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly.

Here, Judge Arreza himself admitted his inefficiency. While he attributed this to domestic and
health issues, suffice it to say that said reasons, even if found acceptable, cannot excuse him
but, at most, can only mitigate his liability. Unfortunately for him, the Court shares the OCA's
observation that the problems alluded to by Judge Arreza happened years before the judicial
audit was conducted in 2016. If he was really inclined to dispose of the backlog caused by his
domestic and health problems, he should have immediately done so. Note that his separation
from his wife happened way back in 2010 and his stroke in 2012. To the mind of the Court,
Judge Arreza had more than enough time to catch up before the conduct of the judicial audit in
2016 especially considering that his sala has a manageable case load due to the low average of
case inflow which was only one case a month. Moreover, the Court notes that, with respect to
the cases already submitted for decision but not decided within the prescribed period, Judge
Arreza failed to ask for extension to decide the same. It has been previously held that "[i]n case
of poor health, the Judge concerned needs only to ask this Court for an extension of time to
decide cases, as soon as it becomes clear to him that there would be delay in the disposition of
his cases."16 To stress, Judge Arreza never bothered to ask the Court for an extension after he
suffered a stroke. In fact, even before his stroke, there were already cases which were overdue
for decision for which no motions for extension were made. Anent the cases with protracted
proceedings, the Court shares the observation of the OCA that there was no reason for them to
undergo a long-drawn-out trial considering that there were only 12 cases supposedly in active
trial.

Given the foregoing, it is not difficult to see that the delay in Judge Arreza's disposition of cases
was the product of his apathy. This becomes even more apparent in light of the fact that Judge
Arreza was able to dispose of all the 23 cases overdue for decision within three (3) months and
act on the other cases after his attention was called by the OCA. Indeed, and as correctly
observed by the OCA, Judge Arreza has the capability but simply chose not to act on the
subject cases.17

Again, it bears to stress that "[a] judge's foremost consideration is the administration of
justice."18 Judges must "decide cases promptly and expeditiously under the time-honored
precept that justice delayed is justice denied. Every judge should decide cases with dispatch
and should be careful, punctual, and observant in the performance of his functions for delay in
the disposition of cases erodes the faith and confidence of our people in the judiciary, lowers its
standards and brings it into disrepute."19

As "delay in the disposition of cases is tantamount to gross inefficiency on the part of a


judge",20 the OCA correctly found Judge Arreza guilty of gross inefficiency for his undue delay in
rendering decisions and failure to act on cases with dispatch. Under Section 11, Rule 140 of the
Rules of Court, the same is punishable by (1) suspension from office without salary and other
benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months; or (2) a fine of more than
₱10,000.00 but not exceeding ₱20,000.00. Considering that this is Judge Arreza's first offense,
the imposition of fine in the amount of ₱15,000.00 is in order.

WHEREFORE, Judge Walter Inocencio V. Arreza is hereby found GUILTY of Gross Inefficiency
for his undue delay in rendering decisions and failure to act on cases with dispatch. He is
ordered to pay a FINE of ₱15,000.00 and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or
similar act or omission will be dealt with more severely. SO ORDERED.
A.C. No. 3951, June 19, 2018 ]

UNITED COCONUT PLANTERS BANK, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. LAURO G. NOEL,


RESPONDENT.

DECISION

GESMUNDO, J.:

Before the Court is a Petition[1] filed by United Coconut Planters Bank (complainant) seeking the
disbarment and/or suspension of Atty. Lauro Noel (respondent) allegedly for violation of the
Lawyer's Oath.

The Antecedents

On November 22, 1990, complainant retained the legal services of respondent in a case for
injunction and damages with writ of preliminary injunction and prayer for temporary restraining
order (LMWD case) filed by Leyte Metro Water District (LMWD) before the Regional Trial Court
of Palo, Leyte.

On November 23, 1990, respondent, on behalf of complainant, attended the hearing in


connection with the LMWD case. During the said hearing, respondent promised to file a
comment on the application for preliminary injunction within ten (10) days. Respondent failed
to file the promised comment.

Respondent also failed to file an answer to the complaint.

Thus, on December 7, 1991, LMWD's counsel, Atty. Francisco P. Martinez, moved to declare
complainant in default.

On February 15, 1991, the motion to declare complainant in default was granted and LMWD
was subsequently allowed to present evidence ex parte.

On November 15, 1991, the decision in the said case was served on complainant. It referred
the said decision to respondent, who assured complainant's Branch Manager in Tacloban, Mr.
Francisco Cupin, Jr., that he need not worry since respondent would take care of everything.

On January 1, 1992, a writ of execution was served on the manager of complainant's Tacloban
Branch. Again, the writ of execution was referred by complainant's Branch Manager to
respondent, who once again reassured him that everything was alright and that he would take
care of it.
On February 5, 1992, the sheriff enforced the writ of execution. Complainant was forced to
open Savings Account No. 11724 in the name of said sheriff to satisfy the judgment.

Hence, complainant filed herein complaint for disbarment against respondent on November 17,
1992.

Proceedings before this Court

On January 25, 1993, the Court issued a Resolution[2] requiring respondent to comment on the
complaint for disbarment within ten (10) days from notice. Respondent failed to comply with
said resolution.

On July 31, 1995, the Court issued another Resolution[3] requiring respondent to show cause
why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for failing to file a comment
within the required period. It reiterated its order for respondent to file a comment within ten
(10) days from notice. Respondent again failed to comply with the resolution.

On August 5, 1996, the Court issued another Resolution[4] imposing on respondent a fine of Five
Hundred Pesos (P500.00) payable within ten (10) days from receipt thereof or to suffer
imprisonment of five (5) days if the fine was not paid within the prescribed period. The Court
then reiterated its July 31, 1995 resolution requiring an explanation and his comment. Records
show that respondent received the August 5, 1996 resolution on August 29, 1996. However, he
still failed to comply therewith.

Thus, on February 23, 1998, the Court issued a Resolution[5] increasing the fine to One
Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00) payable to the Court within ten (10) days from receipt and, again,
required respondent to comply with the July 31, 1995 and August 5, 1996 resolutions. It
warned respondent that failure on his part to pay the increased fine and to comply with the
resolutions within the period given would compel the Court to order his immediate arrest and
detention until he satisfactorily complied with the said resolutions. Respondent again failed to
comply with the resolution.

On September 5, 2001, the Court issued a Resolution[6] declaring respondent guilty of contempt
of court and ordered his detention until he complies with the Court's January 25, 1993
resolution by filing the required comment and pays the fine of P1,000.00.

On September 5, 2001, the Court issued the Order of Arrest and Commitment.[7] It commanded
the Director of NBI to commit respondent in a detention cell until he complies with the January
25, 1993 resolution by submitting the required comment and remitting the increased fine of
P1,000.00. It directed the NBI to make an immediate return of compliance therewith.
On November 5, 2001, the NBI filed apt Endorsement[8] informing the Court that it served
respondent the order of arrest and commitment on October 29, 2001 at about 9:30 a.m.
Respondent was detained at the NBI Eastern Visayas Regional Office, Tacloban City. At about
12:00 a.m. of the same day, respondent was released from custody upon submission of the
required comment and payment of fine via postal money order.

In his Comment[9] dated October 29, 2001, respondent stated that he had not been furnished a
copy of the administrative complaint filed against him for which reason he had not filed his
comment. He also alleged that he was not furnished a copy of the resolution declaring him
guilty of contempt and adjudging him liable for a fine. In compliance with the order declaring
him in contempt, he attached a money order in the amount of P1,000.00 as payment for the
fine imposed but with reservation to file his extended comment upon receipt of a copy of the
administrative complaint filed against him.

On January 28, 2002, the Court issued a Resolution[10] noting (1) the NBI 1st endorsement; (2)
respondent's comment; and (3) Official Receipt No. 15925598 issued on November 29, 2001 by
the Collecting Officer of the Court evidencing payment by respondent of the fine of P1,000.00.
In the said resolution, the Court resolved to require (1) complainant to furnish respondent a
copy of the administrative complaint and its annexes and to submit proof of such service within
five (5) days from notice, and (2) for respondent to file his comment within ten (10) days from
receipt thereof.

On March 21, 2002, complainant filed its Manifestation and Compliance.[11] It manifested that it
served respondent a copy of the complaint for disbarment on March 20, 2002 as evidenced by
Registry Receipt No. 68540 and LBC Official Receipt No. 1510779. This manifestation and
compliance was noted by the Court in its May 22, 2002 Resolution.[12]

On December 7, 2005, the Court issued a Resolution[13] stating that respondent still had yet to
comply with the January 28, 2002 resolution requiring him to submit his comment despite
service upon him of a copy of the complaint on March 21, 2002. Thus, it resolved to require
respondent to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for
such failure and to comply with the January 28, 2002 resolution within ten (10) days from
notice.

On December 15, 2010, the Court issued a Resolution[14] noting that respondent still had yet to
comply with the December 7, 2005 resolution. Thus, it again resolved to require respondent to
show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for such failure
and to comply with the December 7, 2005 resolution within ten (10) days from notice.

In a Report,[15] dated February 17, 2012, the Office of the Bar Confidant informed the Court
that respondent did not comply with the resolutions dated December 7, 2005 and December 15,
2010.
Thus, on July 11, 2012, the Court issued a Resolution[16] resolving to (1) impose upon
respondent a fine of P1,000.00 within ten (10) days from notice thereof or a penalty of
imprisonment of five (5) days if the fine is not paid within the said period; and (2) require
respondent to comply with the December 7, 2005 resolution by filing the comment within ten
(10) days from notice hereof.

On September 19, 2012, respondent filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File
Comment,[17] praying that he be given an extension of twenty (20) days from September 20,
2012 to file his comment on the administrative complaint. He alleged in his motion that he was
not able to file his comment because the files related to the administrative case had not yet
been located in the records of the Regional Trial Court of Leyte.

On September 27, 2012, respondent filed a Compliance[18] to the July 11, 2012 resolution of the
Court. He attached a photocopy of Official Receipt No. 0057019-SC-EP, dated September 14,
2012, as proof that he had paid the fine imposed upon him in the July 11, 2012 resolution.

On November 19, 2012, the Court issued a Resolution[19] (1) granting respondent's motion for
an extension of twenty (20) days from September 20, 2012 within which to file a comment; and
(2) noting and accepting his compliance with the July 11, 2012 resolution ordering him to pay a
fine.

In the Report for Agenda,[20] dated August 3, 2015, the Office of the Bar Confidant informed the
Court that respondent's extended period to file his comment expired on October 10, 2012
without his compliance therewith.

On August 19, 2015, the Court, in a Resolution[21] resolved to (1) consider respondent's right to
file his comment as deemed waived; and (2) referred the complaint before the Integrated Bar
of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.

Thereafter, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (Commission) issued a Notice of Mandatory
Conference[22]notifying and directing the parties to appear during the mandatory conference set
on December 8, 2015 at 9:00a.m. Only respondent appeared during the conference, as stated
in the Minutes of the Hearing,[23] dated December 8, 2015.

The Commission issued an Order[24] requiring him to file his verified answer to the complaint
within five (5) days or until December 14, 2015. It expressly stated that respondent's failure to
file his answer shall be deemed a waiver of the right thereof. The record is bereft of any
evidence that respondent filed his answer.
Recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors

In its Report and Recommendation,[25] dated April 7, 2017, the Commission recommended the
disbarment of respondent. It ruled that respondent violated the Lawyer's Oath and the Code of
Professional Responsibility (Code), specifically Canons 1 and 12, because of his blatant refusal
to obey the orders of the Court and the Commission. It noted that his conduct clearly manifests
his dishonesty and lack of respect for the orders of the duly constituted authorities for a period
of twenty-five (25) years. It also found that respondent violated Canons 17 and 18 of the Code
when he ignored his responsibility to complainant, his client. It stated that his failure to file an
answer in the LMWD case resulted to an adverse decision against his client. It further found
that he has not shown any remorse for his mistake or any vigilance to remedy the same. These
acts, for the Commission, were clear manifestations of his lackadaisical behavior and conduct,
warranting his removal from the Roll of Attorneys.

In its Resolution No. XXII-2017-1082,[26] dated May 27, 2017, the IBP - Board of Governors
adopted the report and recommendation of the Commission, as follows:

RESOLVED to ADOPT the findings of fact and recommendation of the Investigating


Commissioner imposing the penalty of disbarment.[27]

The record is bereft of any evidence that either party filed a motion for reconsideration or
petition for review thereto.

The Ruling of the Court

The Court agrees with the IBP - Board of Governors that respondent violated the Lawyer's Oath
and the Code. However, it does not agree with the recommended penalty.

The core issue before the Court is whether respondent committed culpable negligence in failing
to file an answer on behalf of complainant in the LMWD case for which reason complainant was
declared in default and judgment rendered against it on the basis of ex parte evidence.

The Court answers in the affirmative.

Canon 17 of the Code provides that "a lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client and he
shall be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him."[28] Canon 18, in turn, imposes
upon a lawyer the duty to serve his client with competence and diligence.[29] Further, Rule
18.03, Canon 18 expressly states that "[a] lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to
him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable."[30]
It is axiomatic that no lawyer is obliged to act either as adviser or advocate for every person
who may wish to become his client. He has the right to decline employment, subject, however,
to Canon 14 of the Code. However, once he agrees to take up the cause of a client, the lawyer
owes fidelity to such cause and must always be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in
him. He must serve the client with competence and diligence, and champion the latter's cause
with wholehearted fidelity, care, and devotion. Elsewise stated, he owes entire devotion to the
interest of the client, warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his client's rights, and the
exertion of his utmost learning and ability to the end that nothing be taken or withheld from his
client, save by the rules of law, legally applied. This simply means that his client is entitled to
the benefit of any and every remedy and defense that is authorized by the law of the land and
he may expect his lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense. If much is demanded from
an attorney, it is because the entrusted privilege to practice law carries with it the correlative
duties not only to the client but also to the court, to the bar, and to the public. A lawyer who
performs his duty with diligence and candor not only protects the interest of his client; he also
serves the ends of justice, does honor to the bar, and helps maintain the respect of the
community to the legal profession.[31]

In the instant case, it is uncontested that respondent failed to file an answer on behalf of
complainant in the LMWD case. As a result, complainant was declared in default. When the
matter of default was referred to respondent by complainant, he assured it that he would take
care of it. He, however, did not do anything, hence, LMWD was allowed to present evidence ex
parte and judgment was rendered in its favor. Again, complainant referred the adverse
judgment to respondent. Once more, he assured it that he would take care of the matter. He
failed to do so. Thus, the adverse judgment rendered on the basis of ex parte evidence was
enforced and executed against complainant.

The Court is of the view that respondent's conduct constitutes inexcusable negligence. He
grossly neglected his duty as counsel to the extreme detriment of his client. He willingly and
knowingly allowed the default order to attain finality and he allowed judgment to be rendered
against his client on the basis of ex parte evidence. He also willingly and knowingly allowed said
judgment to become final and executory. He failed to assert any of the defenses and remedies
available to his client under the applicable laws. This constitutes inexcusable negligence
warranting an exercise by this Court of its power to discipline him.

In addition, respondent's evident and willful disregard of court processes constitutes further
reason to discipline him.

Respondent has repeatedly failed to comply with this Court's orders. He failed to file a comment
on the administrative complaint despite numerous resolutions of the Court ordering him to do
so. He was found guilty of contempt of court and was fined twice as result of his disobedience.
He was even detained by the NBI due to his failure to comply with the Court's orders. He filed a
pleading reserving his right to file an extended comment in order to escape detention but the
extended comment never came into fruition. Later on, he asked for an additional period of
twenty (20) days to file a comment, which the Court liberally granted. However, twenty-five
(25) years has passed and respondent has yet to file such.

In Sebastian v. Atty. Bajar,[32] the lawyer therein was required by the Court to file a rejoinder
within ten (10) days from notice. However, she only submitted the rejoinder after she was
detained at the NBI for five (5) days for failure to heed the Court's order. When she was
directed to file a comment to the other party's manifestation, she instead filed a manifestation,
almost four months thereafter. Hence, the Court found her guilty of willful disobedience of the
lawful orders of this Court and of gross misconduct, and imposed upon her the penalty of
suspension from the practice of law for three (3) years.

By reason of parity, the Court finds that respondent's acts constitute willful disobedience of the
lawful orders of this Court, as well as gross misconduct.

In Sebastian v. Atty. Bajar,[33] the Court stated that:

Respondent's cavalier attitude in repeatedly ignoring the orders of the Supreme Court
constitutes utter disrespect to the judicial institution. Respondent's conduct indicates a high
degree of irresponsibility. A Court's Resolution is 'not to be construed as a mere request, nor
should it be complied with partially, inadequately, or selectively.' Respondent's obstinate refusal
to comply with the Court's orders 'not only betrays a recalcitrant flaw in her character; it also
underscores her disrespect of the Court's lawful orders which is only too deserving of reproof.'

Lawyers are called upon to obey court orders and processes and respondent's deference is
underscored by the fact that willful disregard thereof will subject the lawyer not only to
punishment for contempt but to disciplinary sanctions as well. In fact, graver responsibility is
imposed upon a lawyer than any other to uphold the integrity of the courts and to show respect
to their processes.

Respondent's failure to comply with the Court's directive to file a Rejoinder and to file a
Comment also constitutes gross misconduct. The Court defined gross misconduct as 'any
inexcusable, shameful, flagrant, or unlawful conduct on the part of the person concerned in the
administration of justice which is prejudicial to the rights of the parties or to the right
determination of a cause.' It is a 'conduct that is generally motivated by a premeditated,
obstinate, or intentional purpose.'

In Bernal Jr. v. Fernandez, the Court held that failure to comply with the Court's directive to
comment on a letter-complaint constitutes gross misconduct and insubordination, or disrespect.
In Cuizon v. Macalino, a lawyer's failure to comply with the Court's Resolutions requiring him to
file his comment was one of the infractions that merited his disbarment.[34]
Undoubtedly, respondent's gross misconduct and willful disobedience have resulted in the
extreme and inordinate delay of the instant proceedings. In doing so, he violated Canon 12 of
the Code, which provides that "[a] lawyer shall exert every effort and consider it his duty to
assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice."[35]He also violated Rule 12.03,
Canon 12 of the Code, which states that "[a] lawyer shall not, after obtaining extensions of time
to file pleadings, memoranda or briefs, let the period lapse without submitting the same or
offering an explanation for his failure to do so."

To stress, the practice of law is a privilege given to lawyers who meet the high standards of
legal proficiency and morality, including honesty, integrity and fair dealing. They must perform
their four-fold duty to society, the legal profession, the courts and their clients, in accordance
with the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code. Falling short of this
standard, the Court will not hesitate to discipline an erring lawyer by imposing an appropriate
penalty based on the exercise of sound judicial discretion in consideration of the surrounding
facts.[36]

Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court,[37] a finding of gross misconduct and willful
disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court is sufficient cause for suspension or
disbarment.

The determination of whether an attorney should be disbarred or merely suspended for a


period involves the exercise of sound judicial discretion. The penalties for a lawyer's failure to
file a brief or other pleading range from reprimand, warning with fine, suspension and, in grave
cases, disbarment.[38]

Considering his inexcusable negligence in handling complainant's case, his gross misconduct,
and his willful disobedience of the lawful orders of this Court resulting in extreme and inordinate
delay, the Court deems it proper to impose upon him the penalty of suspension from the
practice of law for a period of three (3) years.

WHEREFORE, respondent ATTY. LAURO G. NOEL is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for
three (3) years, effective upon receipt of this judgment. He is WARNED that a repetition of the
same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.
Let copies of this Decision be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant to be entered into the
respondent's personal record. Copies shall likewise be furnished the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines and the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts concerned.
SO ORDERED.
A.C. No. 12121 (Formerly CBD Case No. 14-4322), June 27, 2018

CELESTINO MALECDAN, Complainant, v. ATTY. SIMPSON T. BALDO, Respondent.

DECISION

CAGUIOA, J.:

Before this Court is an administrative complaint1 filed with the Office of the Integrated Bar of
the Philippines Baguio-Benguet Chapter (IBP Baguio-Benguet Chapter) by Complainant
Celestino Malecdan (Malecdan) against Respondent Atty. Simpson T. Baldo (Atty. Baldo), for the
latter's alleged violation of Section 9 of Presidential Decree 1508 (P.D. 1508), otherwise known
as the Katarungang PambarangayLaw, which prohibits. the participation of lawyers in the
proceedings before the Lupon:

SEC. 9. Appearance of parties in person. - In all proceedings provided for herein, the parties
must appear in person without the assistance of counsel/representative, with the
exception of minors and incompetents who may be assisted by their next of kin who are not
lawyers. (Emphasis supplied)

The Factual Antecedents

Malecdan filed a letter of complaint for Estafa, Breach of Contract and Damages against
spouses James and Josephine Baldo, before the Lupon of Barangay Pico in La Trinidad,
Benguet.

On August 14, 2014, Atty. Baldo appeared as counsel of spouses Baldo during the hearing on
the subject complaint before the Punong Barangay.2

On August 18, 2014, Malecdan filed a Complaint-Affidavit (Complaint) before the IBP Baguio-
Benguet Chapter praying that proper sanctions be imposed on Atty. Baldo for violating Section
9 of P.D. 1508.

On August 20, 2014, the Committee on Ethics of the IBP Baguio-Benguet Chapter furnished
Atty. Baldo with a copy of the complaint and set the case for a conciliation conference on
September 12, 2014.3

On September 15, 2014, the Complaint was endorsed to the Committee on Bar Discipline-IBP
(CBD-IBP) by the Committee on Ethics of IBP Baguio-Benguet Chapter after the parties failed to
agree on a settlement.4

The CBD-IBP thereafter issued an Order5 dated September 17, 2014, requiring Atty. Baldo to
submit a duly verified Answer, within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the order.6
On January 14, 2015, the CBD-IBP issued a Notice7 setting the mandatory conference/hearing
of the subject complaint on February 18, 2015.8

On February 12, 2015, Malecdan filed his Mandatory Conference Brief.9

On February 23, 2015, the mandatory conference of the case was rescheduled to March 24,
2015 after Atty. Baldo failed to attend the same.10

In his Answer11 dated February 23, 2015, Atty. Baldo admitted that he was present during the
proceedings before the Punong Barangay. He explained that he was permitted by the parties to
participate in the said hearing, to wit:

1. The allegation in the complaint is admitted. However, the rest of the truth to the matter is
that, before entering the barangay session hall, respondent asked permission from
the officer-in-charge if he will be allowed that before any hearing be conducted, he
and the respondent in the said barangay case, his uncle, James Baldo, be allowed to
talk to complainant Celestino Malecdan as they may be able to amicably settle the
matter on their own, of which the officer in charge granted on the reason that the
proceeding was still in the dialogue stage;

2. Likewise, when he entered inside the barangay session hall where complainant and his
companion, Laila Alumno was waiting, respondent again asked permission from
complainant and his companion, Laila Alumno if the latter will allow the former to
join them in the dialogue with James Baldo as the parties may amicably settle the
case on their own;

3. Since complainant already knew respondent as they had a previous meeting at the office of
complainant's lawyer, Atty. Melissa QuitanCorpuz concerning the same case against James
Baldo, complainant readily permitted and allowed that parties have a dialogue on their own with
respondent joining them and without the presence of any barangay officials.12 (Emphasis
supplied)

In an Order13 dated March 24, 2015, Investigating Commissioner Eduardo R. Robles gave
Malecdan a period of fifteen (15) days to file a supplemental complaint where he can
incorporate other facts and circumstances which he failed to indicate in his complaint. Atty.
Baldo was likewise given a period of fifteen (15) days from his receipt of the supplemental
complaint within which to file his supplemental answer should he wish to do so.14

On March 31, 2015, Malecdan filed his Verified Supplemental Complaint Affidavit,15 wherein he
insisted that he vehemently objected to the presence of Atty. Baldo during the proceedings
before the Punong Barangay, to wit:
2. Using his influence as a lawyer, Atty. Baldo prevailed upon the Punong Barangay
and the Barangay Secretary to let him participate in the barangay proceedings
intended for the settlement of our grievance against Spouses Josephine Baldo and
James Baldo on August 14, 2014.

3. He did this over my vehement objections. I told him that he was not supposed to be there
but then he insisted. It even got to the point that we were already arguing out loud. I
resented the fact that he was there assisting and representing his clients, the
Spouses Baldo while I was not represented by counsel. We were in a situation that
Section 9 of Presidential Decree 1508 sought to prevent.16 (Emphasis supplied)

After due proceedings, Investigating Commissioner Robles rendered a Report and


Recommendation17 on June 2, 2015, recommending that Atty. Baldo be given a warning.
Commissioner Robles found that the language of the Katarungang Pambarangay Law is not that
definite as to unqualifiedly bar lawyers from appearing before the Lupon, nor is the language
that clear on the sanction imposable for such an appearance.18 Commissioner Robles reasoned
that the matter of appearance or non-appearance before the Lupon is clearly addressed to a
lawyer's taste of propriety:

x x x. The respondent ought to have known that his attendance thereat would have caused
some ruckus. That respondent chose to attend is some measure of his lack of propriety.

Although this Commission cannot legislate good taste or an acute sense of propriety, the
Commission can definitely remind the respondent that another act of insensitivity to the rules of
good conduct will court administrative sanctions.19

The dispositive portion of Commissioner Robles' Report and Recommendation reads as follows:

UPON THE FOREGOING, it is respectfully recommended that the respondent Atty. Simpson T.
Baldo be given a warning.

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED.20

On June 20, 2015, the IBP Board of Governors passed a Resolution21 reversing and setting
aside the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner and instead
recommended that Atty. Baldo be reprimanded, thus:

RESOLVED to REVERSE as it is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE, the Report and
Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, herein made
part of this Resolution as Annex "A", considering Respondent's appearance as counsel for
Spouses James and Josephine Baldo in a Katarungan[g] Pambarangay hearing, Thus,
Respondent is hereby REPRIMANDED.22 (Emphasis in the original and italics omitted)

The Court's Ruling


After a judicious examination of the records and submission of the parties, the Court upholds
the findings and recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors.

The Court agrees with the IBP Board of Governors that the language of P.D. 1508 is mandatory
in barring lawyers from appearing before the Lupon.

As stated in the case of Ledesma v. Court of Appeals,23 Section 9 of P.D. 1508 mandates
personal confrontation of the parties because:

"x x x a personal confrontation between the parties without the intervention of a


counsel or representative would generate spontaneity and a favorable disposition to
amicable settlement on the part of the disputants. In other words, the said procedure is
deemed conducive to the successful resolution of the dispute at the barangay level."

x x x x

"To ensure compliance with the requirement of personal confrontation between the
parties, and thereby, the effectiveness of the barangay conciliation proceedings as a
mode of dispute resolution, the above-quoted provision is couched in mandatory
language. Moreover, pursuant to the familiar maxim in statutory construction dictating that
'expressio unius est exclusio alterius', the express exceptions made regarding minors and
incompetents must be construed as exclusive of all others not mentioned."24 (Emphasis
supplied)

Atty. Baldo's violation of P.D. 1508 thus falls squarely within the prohibition of Rule 1.01 of
Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), which provides:

CANON 1 -

A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND
PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW AND LEGAL PROCESSES.

Rule 1.01 -

A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

Canon 1 clearly mandates the obedience of every lawyer to laws and legal processes. A lawyer,
to the best of his ability, is expected to respect and abide by the law: and thus, avoid any act or
omission that is contrary to the same.25 A lawyer's personal deference to the law not only
speaks of his character but it also inspires the public to likewise respect and obey the
law.26 Rule 1.01, on the other hand, states the norm of conduct to be observed by all lawyers.
Any act or omission that is contrary to, or prohibited or unauthorized by, or in defiance of,
disobedient to, or disregards the law is unlawful.27 Unlawful conduct does not necessarily imply
the element of criminality although the concept is broad enough to include such element.28

Here, Atty. Baldo admitted that he appeared and participated in the proceedings before
the Punong Barangay in violation of Section 9 of P.D. 1508. Atty. Baldo therefore violated Rule
1.01 of the CPR in connection with Section 9 of P.D. 1508 when he appeared as counsel for
spouses James and Josephine Baldo in a hearing before the Punong Barangay, Barangay Pico,
Municipality of La Trinidad in Benguet.

All told, the Court finds that the evidence adduced is sufficient to support the allegations
against Atty. Baldo.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Atty. Simpson T. Baldo LIABLE for violation of Canon 1 and
Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and he is hereby REPRIMANDED with a
stem warning that a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.